Driving through the sprawling expanse of Akobo and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area, it is easy to see the devastation wrought by a decade of civil war and climate shocks.
But when one mingles with communities, tragic tales of cattle raids, abductions and intercommunal conflict are interspersed with an irrepressible hope for a better future, one where trade flourishes, people live harmoniously together and sustainable development takes place.
It is this hope that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in partnership with local authorities sought to harness with two peace rallies—one at the Pibor Community Centre and the other at the Akobo Community Ground.
And according to Anthoro Konyi, a 22-year-old aspiring entrepreneur from Pibor who dreams of transforming his community by creating jobs, the rally—held under the theme, ‘Peace Begins With Me’—was a platform where he could articulate his vision for young people to eschew violence and empower themselves.
“This is the platform we need on a regular basis to reflect on the importance of our role in ending the cycle of violence,” said Anthoro simply but eloquently, promising to amplify peace messages among his peers while urging his elders to be supportive of ongoing peace processes.
Anthoro’s views were echoed by Lokoli Ame Bullen, Chief Administrator, Greater Pibor Administrative Area who emphasized that durable peace in South Sudan can only be achieved by empowering young people through education and entrepreneurship.
“Currently, youth across the Greater Pibor Administrative Area live off their guns. They have no scope to be gainfully employed and, instead, are caught in a vicious cycle of cattle rustling, revenge attacks and intercommunal hatred. We must disarm our young people, build their skills, and ensure their livelihoods. This is the only way conflict will stop,” stated Mr. Bullen passionately.
During the Akobo rally, similar stories were heard.
Malual Gabriel Kon, Jonglei state’s Minister for Peacebuilding, revealed that he has a vision for Akobo, located a few kilometers from South Sudan’s border with Ethiopia, where the county is a thriving commercial hub.
However, ongoing conflict has made this a difficult dream to realize, notes the Minister.
“My appeal to everybody here is please do not take the law into your own hands,” said Minister Kon addressing the rally. “We have legal structures in place, and I assure you, in case injustice has been done against you or your family and loved ones, law enforcement personnel will ensure your rights are upheld.”
Minister Kon further assured that peacebuilding dialogues will soon be rolled out across Akobo to promote reconciliation and stop youth-led conflict.
However, speeches weren’t the only highlight of these two mega rallies. Some 6,000 people in both locations were entertained by the UN Peacekeeping mission’s in-house band—the Flamingoes—as well as traditional dances and musical performances by local women’s groups and school students.
Importantly, the two events featured interactive and engaging presentations by representatives of the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation on the achievements, challenges, and the way forward in the Revitalized Peace Agreement by the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring Commission, the body tasked with monitoring the implementation of the 2018 peace deal.
UNMISS, too, took the opportunity to explain its mandate in South Sudan, underscoring its ongoing support for an enduring peace in this young nation.
As the sun set over the Pibor and Akobo, the air was redolent with renewed optimism that, hopefully, will help light the way towards a brighter, more peaceful future for communities living here.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).